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Changes Abound as Schools Open Throughout DOD

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2012 – Bells have rung in 194 Department of Defense Educational Activity Schools around the world, marking the start of another school year.

Marilee Fitzgerald, the director of the agency, spoke during a Pentagon news conference today about changes to the school system and the unique role these schools play.

Worldwide, 87,000 students attend classes in 22 countries, seven states and two territories, Fitzgerald said. In addition, another 1.2 million children of military families will join their peers attending public schools around the United States.

The students come from all different racial, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds and are united by the affiliation with the military, Fitzgerald noted.

“I like to refer to this group of military children as ambassadors of our U.S. military core values,” the director said. “They bring a lifestyle, a commitment and a sense of purpose. Their values are rooted in honor, courage, selfless sacrifice, loyalty, respect, integrity and excellence, just like the families in which they live, just like their mothers and fathers who have made a commitment to our nation. That's what makes these children so very special for us.”

Their educational experiences mirror the mobile lifestyles of their parents. On average, the students will attend six to nine schools before they graduate. “In DODEA alone, our mobility rate is about 35 percent every year,” Fitzgerald said.

And these children bear burdens and have worries their stateside friends don’t know, she added. Many have parents deployed in harm’s way or know students who have lost parents. “Certainly, one can’t underestimate the challenges of moving … and leaving your friends and neighborhoods and the comfort of security in neighborhoods around our nation to join their parents in their military commitments,” she said.

A major military construction program is underway to optimize the learning environments in the system’s schools, Fitzgerald said.

DOD schools rank at the top or near the top in every measurement of student achievement, she added, but while students may be getting an education that prepares them for 21st century careers, some of the physical plants for the schools themselves are mired in the 1970s -- not unsafe, but just in failing condition.

DOD provided about $3.7 billion over five years to fix these schools. “For us, that translates to 134 schools,” Fitzgerald said. “Today we have 49 schools in design. I believe eight schools are under construction, and we’ve opened up some new schools.”

The new schools incorporate all the latest educational thinking. ”Studios” replace classrooms. All students have laptops, and the schools will have enough outlets to charge them and connect with sites. “Children will have more collaboration spaces,” Fitzgerald said, and will receive some instruction through the Web.

“You can't use a traditional classroom setup to accommodate some new instructional approaches,” Fitzgerald explained. “We do more project-based learning, and so our classroom spaces are reflective of the kind of … teaching and learning that we’re going to be doing in this century.”

The school system will add five courses from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula, and effective this year, graduation will include an additional math requirement. The schools also will expand a program to teach children Spanish in elementary schools, in addition to local languages, at many of the overseas schools.

This year, the system will join 46 states in adopting the Common Core Standards -- descriptions of what children should know and be able to do by grade level and in content areas, providing what Fitzgerald called “the power of having standards that are the same for every state.” The states have adopted standards in two subject areas -- mathematics and reading/language arts – and science is under development, the director said.

In the years to come, Fitzgerald said, the system will change as the military changes. DOD’s focus will shift toward the Pacific, she noted, and DODEA will shift to meet that need.

 

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